Board of Education member Howard Gardner writes in a commentary that appeared first in the Connecticut Post Mayor Joe Ganim must extend his second-chance message to city students.
As a potential candidate in the 2015 mayoral race, I observed two amazing phenomena: how readily the minority community overlooked the egregious transgressions of a man who once betrayed public trust, and that a major segment of the population overlooked those atrocities by saying, “Everyone deserves a second chance.”
During the campaign, Joe Ganim became the ‘poster person’ of second chances. Ironically, those advocating for his second chance could all name a friend, relative or neighbor who was once incarcerated, and who could not even land a job at McDonald’s because of their past indiscretion. Nope.
No second chance for them. However, Joe Ganim gets to be mayor again.
I watched in awe as the ubiquitous Joe Ganim attended many social events in the most poverty-stricken areas of this city. The indefatigable candidate made events ranging from the P.T. Barnum Reunion, backyard parties, vigils for the slain and funerals to general church services.
Joe Ganim’s victory in last year’s elections was a direct result of the votes he garnered from a population characterized as minority and poor. They gave Joe Ganim his second chance.
Now that Ganim has won, it is time for him to pay forward his second chance and look out for this particular constituency.
How can he repay those who voted for him? It is a known fact that a good education constitutes a second–often times the only–chance for those born in poverty. Education is a transformative reality that moves individuals and whole groups to higher standards of living. I am a product of this process.
We yearn for this mayor to break the historical pattern of underfunding education in this city. This pattern, measured by various metrics, is an indictment of past administrations dating back to Joe Ganim’s first term in office.
For example, the city’s 26 percent contribution to the overall education budget is the lowest of all towns and cities in the state; and it appears the mayor will continue with this tradition.
He submitted his budget to the City Council without a single conversation with the Bridgeport Board of Education or with the superintendent of schools, Dr. Aresta Johnson.
This behavior reveals a degree of contempt toward the 21,000 children of this district. His action speaks quite clearly: You’re getting exactly what you got last year, regardless of the actual cost of providing services to the children of our district. This attitude from a mayor who knows or should know that:
The cost of running the school district increases automatically by approximately $5 million, and is driven by the built-in salary increments of past collective bargaining agreements, increases in the cost of insurance, legal fees and utilities.
The Bridgeport school district receives less financial resource, and spends less per pupil–$14,000–when compared to each of the state’s major cities–New Haven $18,045; Hartford $19,305; Stamford $18,045; and Waterbury $15,214.
The district 2017-18 budget calls for a minimum of $11.4 million more to cover increase in structural costs, to bring back essential services lost to last year’s budget reduction (kindergarten para-professionals and middle school guidance counselors), and increase demands for special education services. The governor’s budget would yield an additional $6.7 million to the school district. Assuming that the city will cover the teachers retirement costs transferred from the state, an additional $4.7 million over last year’s contribution from the city is required to close the gap.
If Governor Malloy’s budget comes out of legislative process in its current form, and the city realizes new taxes from local hospitals, the mayor should direct the lion’s share of the potential $15 million toward education. The city council and citizens of Bridgeport should join forces to ensure this, should the mayor fail to take the initiative.
Additionally, to position the school district to maintain the current level of service, the city needs to: completely assume all costs related to the teaching retirement fund if transferred from the state;
absorb all costs associated with school crossing guards, as is the case in other cities. Safety on public streets is the responsibility of municipal governments;
cover the costs of garbage collection for school buildings, as is the case in other cities; and
cover the costs of snow removal from school buildings, as is the case in other cities.
Without major investments and improvements to our school system, there will be no significant revitalization of the local economy. We have invested heavily (mostly with state funding) in new school buildings, and now it is time to invest in improving the learning processes within these buildings. A material commitment to our schools is the most impactful, far-reaching and long lasting benefit that this mayor can provide to our community.
Mayor Ganim is in a good position to express his greatest ‘thank you’ to the minority community of this city. He should do everything in his power to push for incremental funding to educate the 21,000 children of our district who are mostly black, brown and poor.
Mr. Mayor, you got your second chance. Now it is time to pass it on.